Sleep-deprived, groggy and perpetually glued to a screen? Parents, tweens and teens may all be in need of a little extra shut-eye, and ParentingU has tips to help you reclaim restful nights.
Natalie Derouen, MD, pediatrician with Our Lady of Lourdes Children’s Health who practices in Maurice, Louisiana, offers her advice to help parents better understand sleep needs for our teens and tweens in this ParentingU podcast episode.
Basics of Tween and Teen Sleep
Sleep is so important in all aspects, but it’s particularly important for young growing brains, as it allows them to recharge and refuel. Sleep impacts health, mental health and academic performance.
Adolescents require around 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night for optimal physical and mental well-being. Despite the demanding schedules of school and extracurricular activities, teenagers need to prioritize their sleep, ensuring they have the energy and focus to tackle the challenges of each day.
“If they don’t get enough rest, it might affect their schoolwork, their extracurricular activities or even lead to mood swings,” Dr. Derouen says.
During puberty tweens and teens experience a shift in their circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that regulates sleep-wake cycles. Influenced by hormonal changes, teens become naturally inclined to stay up later at night and wake up later in the morning.
“When they are going through puberty, they might have even a full like two-hour delay in when their sleep cycle will be at its peak to be tired,” Dr. Derouen says. “Sometimes even before 11 p.m., it’s hard for them to want to go to sleep.”
Establish a Good Wind-Down Routine
Just like we do when our children are little, our teens and tweens need a consistent sleep routine.
“Having that set routine, like eating dinner, brushing teeth, maybe reading a book and then heading to bed, can significantly impact a teenager’s sleep quality,” Dr. Derouen says. “We all respond well to routine.”
When tweens and teens should go to bed depends on when they need to wake up. Work backward from when you need to get up. With early wake up times to catch the bus at 5 or 6 a.m., for some teens bedtime may be as early as 9 or 10 p.m. to get the recommended eight hours.
“Typically I’d say about an hour before your planned bedtime is when you should start winding down,” Dr. Derouen says. The routine can be similar to that of toddlers: pajamas, brush teeth, read a book, go to bed.
No Screens at Bedtime
Dr. Derouen encourages tweens, teens and their parents to put away the electronic devices about an hour before bedtime. Blue light from screens such as cell phones, video games, TVs and iPads can disrupt natural sleep cycles, tricking the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. Screen-free zones before bedtime are essential.
She suggests a family pact or agreement for a screen-time shut off point each night to hold each other accountable. When everyone is well rested life runs smoother.
Exercising too close to bed can also keep teens from falling asleep easily. “We typically recommend about an hour of physical activity or exercise per day,” Dr. Derouen says. “That’s going to help your body get into that routine as well but not too close to when you’re supposed to go to bed.”
As far as eating – Dr. Derouen says to focus on good breakfast, lunch and dinner. Timing of meals varies person to person. “As long as you’re regulating and having those good three meals a day then that’s the goal,” she says.
Challenges and Solutions
Common sleep issues for teens and tweens include insomnia and anxiety. She advocates for open communication with parents, emphasizing the importance of understanding the root causes of these sleep disturbances.
“I’ve had teens tell me about headaches, difficulty concentrating, and even worsening of their ADHD symptoms due to lack of sleep,” she says. “It’s crucial to explore these symptoms further.”
Sometimes racing thoughts or worries can keep teens up at night. Dr. Derouen recommends writing in a journal as an option to help. “It can help to get any of those racing thoughts out and on paper — that way it’s out of your brain.”
Sunlight in the Morning
A morning routine can also be an important part of good sleep hygiene. Opening the blinds in the morning or stepping outside to wake up and get some fresh air can be a way to improve sleep quality and get in a better rhythm.
“It’s like when you get off a plane and have jet lag they say to face the sun so the gland in your brain will wake up and realize that it’s the morning,” Dr. Derouen says.
A regular morning routine can also include washing your face, brushing your teeth and certainly eating some breakfast.
When it comes to melatonin supplements and other sleep aids, Dr. Derouen says they are not a long-term solution. Although they can offer temporary relief, Dr. Derouen encourages prioritizing healthy sleep patterns and good sleep hygiene.
“Melatonin can help in the short term, but the ultimate goal is to establish a solid sleep routine,” she says.
Can You Catch Up on Sleep?
A common sleep myth is the idea of fully catching up on lost rest on the weekends, but sleeping in on Saturdays and Sundays can’t compensate for a week of insufficient sleep.
“Sleep debt” is the cumulative amount of sleep lost over time, and while extra weekend rest can alleviate some sleep debt temporarily it doesn’t fully reset the body’s internal clock. Chronic sleep deprivation, even if compensated partially on weekends, can impact overall health, cognitive function, emotional well-being, growth and development.
Don’t Let All the Activities Crowd Out Quality Sleep
As kids get older, their schedules fill up with extracurriculars, friends, sports and more focus on homework.
“It’s all about balance and making sure that they’re focusing on the things that are the most important at that time and not doing everything all at once,” Dr. Derouen says.
Helping teens realize that sleep allows them to do all of those things they love can be key to get them on board with a regular healthy sleep routine. Then every night can be a good night’s sleep for the whole family.